I’m on my knees in the dim basement, gripping a pistol in my right hand, index finger on the trigger guard. There are six shells in the clip, loaded by beer-clumsy fingers. I’m about to fire them into the man-shaped target 45 feet away. My elbows rest on the battered brown surface of a bar stool, a long-ago tear covered with electrician’s tape. I blink to clear my blurry eyes and bleary mind.

“Shoot the drift” Dave says from behind my right shoulder, telling me to compensate for the pendulum swaying of my arms and shoulders, the rhythm of my breathing, the beat of my heart. I’ve fired rifles many times, but the drift is different with a pistol. More pronounced. Compensating for this unavoidable motion involves timing and balance—timing the shot for the moment the gun sights cross the targeted point, balancing between wanting to pull the trigger and willing my body to be patient. Dave stands behind me and instructs, knowing that the physical reality of drifting can be overcome: “Shoot the drift.”

There’s more here than instruction in marksmanship. Dave hunts for pleasure and reads Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle’s arguments about the Golden Mean. He taught me to write and to teach others. Tonight he’s teaching me to shoot a pistol, and I’m not surprised that his counsel on accuracy is applicable beyond his basement. Dave’s lesson is a startlingly accurate description of the previous year.

I begin to fire. The explosive smell is sharp, chemical and machine working in harmony. Dave cares for his guns and loads his own shells. I expect, and get, perfect operation. My shots come in an irregular rhythm but all fly true. This is a great surprise to me. I’d worried about shooting badly, about disappointing Dave, about putting a shot through his wood-paneled wall and into the gas line.

Finished, I snap the safety, lay the pistol on the torn seat, check the target. We discuss the merits of various hits by pointing and shrugging with our hands. The best one goes through silhouette-man’s throat, sprawling him on the floor of my imagination, a pool of blood spreading. A straight shot, despite the drift.

Before I ever put hand to pistol, there was drift in my life. Learning to compensate for it is taking everything this drunken exercise in philosophy and precision can offer.

I’ve drifted since Elizabeth and I began discussing adoption nearly a year before, reading manuals and how-to Web sites, wandering through the offices of lawyers and social workers, weighing open adoption versus closed versus foster care. I’ve drifted through the physical, financial, and emotional costs of in vitro fertilization—and through months of delivering Elizabeth’s daily injections into her hips, shooting the needle in, pulling back to look for blood, plunging the oil-based hormone injection into her small body. She tells me the shots don’t hurt, despite the ever-growing circles of bruises, blue-black at their centers and malarial yellow at the distant borders. I’ve drifted through January night false-alarm runs to the hospital and weeks of daily visits with other parents in the aggressively cheerful waiting rooms of the neo-natal intensive care unit, where most of the toys are wooden and missing parts and the liquid soap smells like pink bubblegum.

By this night on Dave’s indoor and illegal shooting range, when a lesson in the physical demands of accurate marksmanship provides me with a metaphor for my confusion as a new father, the twins born of my drifting are less than four months old. I’ve learned to mix formula according to a doctor’s instructions, enriching the mix to overcome the deprivation of premature birth. I’ve learned to clean the parts of a breast pump, to assemble without directions hand-me-down cribs and mobiles and car seats, to fix loose wires in a second-hand baby monitor. My office is a nursery, the desk where I write dwarfed by a crib big enough for two infants. My wife is learning to be a mother. A good mother. Our parents already know how to be grandparents, and my closest friends—including Dave—are falling naturally into their roles as aunts and uncles. I am still drifting, swaying between the man I was before and the man I am now, still hitting neither the physical nor metaphorical targets with accuracy.

But I’m learning to shoot these drifts.

Shane Borrowman teaches courses in writing and the history of rhetoric at the University of Nevada, Reno. Two current projects, an English composition textbook titled The Promise of America and a collection of essays titled The Promise and Peril of Writing Program Administration, are scheduled for publication in mid-2006. Despite the productivity these two sentences suggest, he spends the majority of his time doting on his infant twins, John and Samantha, and watching zombie movies and football, both of which the twins are still too young to notice.